The US policy of arming “moderate” rebel factions in Syria has a lot of problems, but none bigger than the Nour al-Din al-Zinki, a Free Syrian Army (FSA) linked group that’s been getting US aid for quite some time, and also grabbing headlines for a series of incidents.
In early July, an Amnesty International report named them as one of several US-backed group involved in torture and summary executions. Just two weeks later, the group’s social media accounts showed fighters beheading a young Palestinian boy described as “an Assad soldier.” Now, Russia is suggesting this same group was responsible for a chemical weapons attack this week in Aleppo.
That’s a lot of bad publicity for a matter of a few weeks, and is starting to come up in State Department briefings, though spokesman Mark Toner downplayed the incidents, or the possibility that the US would stop arming Nour al-Din al-Zinki just because they beheaded a child and used chemical weapons.
“First of all, there’s a lot of betting of the Syrian moderate opposition that has already taken place, and it’s not just by the US,” Toner insisted, adding that “one incident here and there would not necessarily make you a terrorist group.”
Toner said that didn’t mean the US condoned the beheading or the chemical attack, but that the US focus was on backing “the moderate opposition,” and differentiating Nour al-Din al-Zinki from other groups like ISIS and al-Qaaeda’s Nusra Front, because those groups have aspirations to attack not just in Syria, but also against the West.
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